The Commission on Human Rights remains excluded in the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s hyped efforts to address the widespread killings under President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs.
CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit on Thursday, October 8, said the DOJ has yet to clarify the commission’s role in the inter-agency panel that would reinvestigate 5,655 deaths in police drug war operations.
“We have written thrice and they have not responded yet on what role we will play,” she said during a press conference organized by the rights group In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement.
“We will keep on writing and we will keep on monitoring,” she added.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced the creation of the panel during the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in June 2020.
The review panel was meant to avoid action from the International Criminal Court, and a response to the scathing report by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet that said local systems have so far failed to exact accountability for the killings.
During his speech, Guevarra said the CHR “will be involved as an independent monitoring body,” touting that its “continued, unhampered function underpins our strong position against calls for an independent investigative mechanism.”
Gomez-Dumpit recalled that the CHR already wrote another letter to the DOJ to once again establish connection a few days after Guevarra’s speech. Three months later, the justice department has still not responded.
She said Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, before he resigned in September, said the DOJ already received the letters but was not ready to answer. Perete handled several high-stakes projects of the DOJ.
His resignation appeared to have a significant impact on the justice department as Guevarra himself admitted that it disrupted the workflow, and they would first focus on reassigning the duties.
All eyes are on the DOJ as it plays a crucial role in shielding the Duterte government from international investigations into human rights violations.
Instead of launching a proper investigation, the UNHRC offered “technical assistance” to domestic efforts of the Philippine government.
In a statement on Saturday, October 10, Senator Leila de Lima expressed disappointment over the UNHRC resolution, saying that it fell short of taking concrete steps and that it is “tantamount to absolving a murderous regime of its crimes against humanity.”
“Hindi matitigil ng malabnaw at mababaw na mga hakbang ang laganap na karahasang ipinaiiral ng mga lasing sa kapangyarihan (Watered-down and shallow measures won’t stop the widespread violence carried out by those drunk on power),” she said.
Jailed since 2017, De Lima has continuously called out the human rights violations under Duterte. As CHR chairperson in 2009, she initiated public hearings on the alleged existence of the Davao Death Squad, supposedly controlled by Duterte himself.
“Do we really expect this regime to stop the carnage and submit to technical cooperation and capacity building programs to promote the rights that it has been blatantly violating? No, we cannot tame a rabid mass murderer that is Duterte,” the senator said.
The resolution highlighted ongoing programs, including the review panel and the data-sharing agreement between the DOJ and CHR under Administrative Order 35.
Dumpit said that the AO35 data-sharing did not cover deaths related to Duterte’s drug war. And so far, the DOJ has not even shared any data related to the order’s coverage, which was politically-motivated killings.
When asked if the data-sharing could cover drug war deaths, Guevarra told Rappler that he “will have to consult member law enforcement agencies about it.”
These agencies include the Philippine National Police (PNP), which so far has been uncooperative with the CHR regarding investigation into extrajudicial killings despite repeated promises from government officials.
PNP chief General Camilo Cascolan on September 7 said that there were no extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, and that “it’s not only the criminals who are being killed here.”
Gomez-Dumpit reiterated that the absence of cooperation “still prevails as a practice,” leading to problems with pursuing investigations and cases.
“It bears stressing that no amount of technical assistance and capacity-building can really improve the situation on the ground if there’s no change in policy,” she said.
“Broader engagement with UN can be a start, but there should be marked improvement in engagement with domestic accountability mechanisms, like CHR and civil society organizations,” Gomez-Dumpit added.
The lack of transparency from law enforcement agencies has led to what groups call “worsening culture of impunity” in the Philippines.
Only one case has led to a conviction – the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in 2017. Outside of this, thousands of killings have been left unsolved, mostly attributed to systemic gaps.
Figures from the PNP show that there have been 7,884 deaths during police operations as of August 31, 2020.
The number, however, does not reflect the victims of vigilante-style killings. Human rights groups estimate the total number of fatalities in the drug war to have reached more than 27,000 already. (READ: The Impunity Series) – With reports from Lian Buan/Rappler
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